Mobile may not be the first thing that comes to mind when someone brings up gaming in a conversation, but the world is taking it a lot more seriously this year than it did the last. In fact, the latest report from Newzoo suggests that the global mobile gaming market, which surpassed that of PC and console in 2016, will increase its hold on the industry by generating $46.1 billion by the end of this year, with PC and console bringing in $29.4 billion and $33.5 billion respectively. The same report goes on to predict that smartphone gaming will represent more than 50 percent of the total market by 2020.
If these numbers can tell us anything, it’s that the last time the mobile gaming star was this bright was probably the 90s, when Nintendo’s Game Boy was the song every gamer was singing. Unless a landmark event hits the industry, it’s safe to assume that mobile will continue to be the most lucrative segment for years to come.
The consistent growth of mobile gaming is mainly attributed to the rapid advancement of underlying forces, such as smartphones, tablets, and mobile Internet networks, along with newer technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), which have all given the once dwindling sector a new taste of life.
Determined developers and aggressive investors have also contributed a great deal to making the industry lucrative. Mobile games make up about 25 percent of all apps in Apple’s App Store, and popular titles like Pokémon Go and Clash Royale are among the top grossing Google Play apps worldwide.
And let’s not forget the rising number of casual gamers, who see mobile gaming as a cheaper and more convenient way to pass the time than console or PC. When every student has a smartphone and an hour to kill before the next class, the uptake of distraction games goes through the roof. Smartphones may not be the first-choice device for dedicated gamers, but they are a minority compared to casual mobile gamers.
With mobile gaming racing to solidify its place at the top of the industry, the next few years could see significant shake ups in the top grossing app charts. New global giants will displace incumbents, and only the players that take full advantage of emerging trends today will be able to stay ahead of the curve tomorrow.
Below are five exciting trends that are shaping the future of mobile gaming.
Despite the positive state of mobile gaming today, it still has a long way to go before it gets back to its former glory. A primary reason is the lack of strong brands. Of course, publishers like Supercell and King are making extraordinary steps, but the platform has yet to find its Mario or Sonic that will truly make a mark.
Nevertheless, the next few years could see developers capitalize on existing brand recognition to be mobile gaming’s most recognizable face. The widespread success of Pokémon Go last year, as well as the release of Super Mario Run, have set the pace perfectly, and it won’t be long before other brands pick it up.
The growth of brands in the future will likely center on a more integrated marketing approach, bringing together channels like social media, influencers and celebrities, as well as still- and motion-picture techniques. You may not have liked last year’s The Angry Birds Movie, but with mainstream game makers stretching their reach beyond gaming to become full entertainment brands, more such films will undoubtedly be hitting a cinema near you very soon.
Casual gamers, who make up the bulk of the mobile gaming audience, are typically reluctant to spend money for a game they likely won’t play for more than a few days. Therefore, fixed price tags are rarely an option for mobile game makers, and instead, Booster Packs and IAPs (in-app purchases) have taken center stage as the primary source of revenue.
The success of F2P titles like Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes and Battlestar Galactica: Squadrons has hinged on the free-to-play platform, where users can play a basic version of the game, before paying to unlock new characters and activities. Others like Clash Royale, and Marvel: Contest of Champions are implementing a more user-friendly form of F2P called gacha, which rewards long-hour players with in-game currencies for use in purchasing content, rather than exclusively using real cash.
Mobile games are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and as a result, the need for them to be profitable is rising, so much so that developers can no longer bank entirely on ad revenue. Ultimately, the fully-free games that are currently on app stores will adopt free-to-play and gacha systems. We may also see more fixed prices, especially for games with an already established brand, as has been the case with Super Mario Run, which comes with a stiff $9.99 price tag.
Technology has been consistently moving towards deeper social engagement, and games haven’t been left behind. Gone are the days when gaming was reserved for the geeks and the socially awkward. Today, games are now social havens where like-minded people can meet and interact while blowing off zombie-brains and exploring post-apocalyptic cities.
To make a lasting imprint in the hearts of the next generation of gamers, mobile developers will need to capitalize even more on the social aspect. The kids of today are growing up with the Internet, instant messaging, and Facebook. So they will, therefore, expect the same opportunities to connect when it comes to gaming. The Candy Crush style of leaderboards and asynchronous social gameplay won’t cut it, as gamers will want real-time player-versus-player engagement.
Admittedly, casual, offline single-player games will still exist, and many will continue to be successful in the charts. Not all of us can afford to buy the pricey high-end smartphones that offer the robust performance and the reliable network connectivity needed for immersive multiplayer experiences. Nevertheless, competition in the mobile gaming scene will be much more prevalent in the future than it is now.
Traditionally, eSports have been reserved almost exclusively for the PC and console market. In recent times, however, mobile gaming seems to be making inroads in the space. Spearheading the bold move are Vainglory and Clash Royale, both which are paving the way for a new generation eSports games, tailored for and better-played on mobile.
Although mobile esports is still in its infancy, some industry experts are betting on mobile to be the platform that propels eSports to mainstream adoption. This enthusiasm is encouraged by the expensive PC and console hardware and the rapidly evolving smartphone performance, along with the portability and the convenience of not requiring external controllers. Moreover, smartphones are seemingly more approachable for eSports developers because, in addition to the relative ease of making a mobile-based eSports game, phones are far more widespread than PCs or consoles. Future mobile eSports games could potentially reach billions of gamers.
But it’s not just the players that will benefit from the mobile eSports revolution. Fans of PC and console eSports will also be looking to lend their cheers to future mobile competitors. Therefore, the next few years could see a dramatic increase in mobile game streaming and broadcasting, as game developers try to cement their hold on spectators. In fact, the games that succeed in the future will probably not be the action/arcade types which, as exciting as they are for the players, aren’t exactly fun to watch. Instead, games that harness the power of mass-market spectators will be the ones to take over the world. After all, sports mean little without the fans.
Virtual reality kicked into high-gear last year when the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, and the PlayStation VR hit the shelves. However, although these three gadgets instantly became dream toys for serious gamers, only a handful could afford the hefty cost of a full PC- or console-based VR setup.
Thankfully, the mobile gaming scene was making strides of its own. Despite coming at a fraction of the price, the Samsung Gear VR offered users more than decent virtual reality experience. The release of the Daydream View was yet another plus for the mobile gaming industry. With Google’s global payments and distribution structures already in place to support in-app purchases within the virtual reality environment, the Daydream seems to demonstrate quite well that VR has a real home on mobile.
Augmented reality is also poised to be a hotbed for significant growth opportunities. The overwhelming success of Pokémon Go inadvertently thrust AR into the mainstream, and game developers now have a clear picture of its potential. As users continue to crave for real-like gaming experiences, mobile gaming is bound to incorporate AR elements a lot more extensively in the future.
For an industry that had long stayed silently in the shadow of its former glory, mobile gaming is doing pretty well. Sure, you won’t find a smartphone game that’s enjoying as much attention as Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands or Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, but when it comes to numbers, mobile has the upper hand.
Backed by the trends above, mobile gaming is now in an excellent position to house new characters, brands, gamers and spectators that can rival, and even surpass those of traditional gaming platforms.